A s the UK government continues its assault on employment rights with the introduction of the Minimum Service Levels Act, the trade union movement is leading the opposition to this damaging new law. With a general election coming within the next 12 months, keeping the right to strike high on the political agenda will be key to protecting workers’ rights.

On Saturday 9 December six of us formed a small EIS delegation and joined fellow trade unionists in London for a one-item special congress called by the TUC. This was a historic event, the first special congress held by the TUC in 40 years.

Back in the 1980s, a special congress was called as the Tory government under Thatcher began its assault on trade unions. At GCHQ in Cheltenham, union members were told to resign their membership or be sacked. After a long campaign marked by the fortitude of the workers and their families, and the solidarity of the whole movement, they were reinstated only when the incoming Labour government of 1997 repealed the ban.

Today, the present Tory government has passed laws that could restrict the right to strike for over five million workers. The government’s draconian Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act was forced through parliament by the government.

This means that when workers lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they could be forced to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply.

It has now become clear that in some sectors affected by MSLs, the vast majority of workers would be prohibited from ever taking strike action. This undemocratic new law is set to curtail the right to strike for 1 in 5 workers.

The malicious legislation also imposes unworkable bureaucracy on unions and their members, and puts them at risk of huge and unacceptable penalties if they fall foul of the rules. The government is riding roughshod over workers’ rights to take strike action to defend their pay and conditions.

At the historic special congress in December, the trade union movement agreed in a comprehensive statement to continue our campaign of opposition and non-compliance across workplaces and across the country.

Trade unions will:

  1. March with the sacked GCHQ workers through Cheltenham on 27 January, to commemorate their struggle, and to recommit ourselves to defiant opposition to Conservative minimum service levels, trade union restrictions and any threat to the right to strike.
  2. Call an urgent demonstration and provide support in the event a work notice is deployed and a union or worker is sanctioned in relation to a work notice.
  3. Continue our wider legal challenge to these undemocratic laws – leaving no stone unturned internationally and in UK courts.
  4. Hold Labour to their commitment to repeal this legislation within their first 100 days of office.
  5. Call on all employers and public bodies to oppose this counterproductive legislation. The TUC will name and shame any employer who deploys a work notice as anti-union and anti-worker.

The EIS stands fully committed to protecting the right to strike as a fundamental right for our members and for all working people.

In her speech supporting the statement on behalf of the EIS, General Secretary Andrea Bradley stressed the need for TUC collaboration with the STUC to ensure that the Scottish Government and public sector employers in Scotland do not enact the anti-strike legislation. The General Secretary assured congress that the EIS as a union of teachers, upholders of human rights and democrats, stands alongside all who work to protect the right of trade unionists to strike for workers today, and for the young people we teach who will be the next generations of workers to come.

In addition to being represented at the march which took place in Cheltenham at the end of January, as part of our next steps, the EIS will raise this issue directly with COSLA in a bilateral meeting and will plan a strategy around non-compliance and what this might look like in practice.

The EIS stands fully committed to protecting the right to strike as a fundamental right for our members and for all working people.

The full TUC statement can be found here – www.tuc.org.uk/general-council-statement-special-congress-2023

Allan Crosbie, EIS Vice-President